Monday, July 21, 2014

You're the greatest: Sei Bravismo

A priest in The Catholic Digest Magazine recounts some of the difficulties in learning a new language necessary for study outside the country. He was studying in Italy and was close to one of the families in the parish where he was assisting the pastor. He would  often be invited to eat with them. They had three daughters, and the youngest Sophia was in first-year elementary school and was not pleased with the visits of the priest.

The priest's skinny rambling oriental features did not appeal to the young girl. The other two girls had no difficulty with his broken Italian. Sophia probably didn't care for the attention he was getting from the other members of the family and their  lack of concern for her. On one occasion, he prepared a slice of the cake with the fork in it and gave it to the child, she looked at him and said it was disgusting: the words Italians use in  abusive language, surprisingly he understood. She was as pretty as Audrey Hepburn but with a horrible temper. The priest didn't like being ostracized by the child and was determined to break down the wall of resistance.First he tried to show an interest in what she was studying in school, what TV programs she liked, but Sophia did not give answer and instead started correcting his inarticulate Italian with a show of anger at his poor Italian. This bothered him greatly.

The second strategy was to give her some Korean presents, a doll, a purse and the like. It seemed to work. She was spending some time over in a corner looking over the gifts  but then suddenly  she threw  them all away.  The priest  was totally upset and angry but was determined to work to get her friendship. This time it was to ignore her.

When he came to the house, he would greet the family warmly, eat with them and sing together, but would not pay any attention to Sophia. She would turn to the TV to forget her boredom. The mother would tell her to turn off the TV for the priest was there with them. The priest found this very difficult but felt it necessary to come to a  new relationship with Sophia.

A couple of weeks later Sophia was the altar girl at the Mass the priest was saying. This was her first time, and her other altar servers did not show up. He could see she was very nervous about her role. The Mass started and right from the beginning she was making mistakes. He tried to help her with hand gestures and with whispers. At the offering of the gifts, Sophia was in a state of panic. When it came to the washing of the hands, she began washing her own hands. The mistakes continued to the end of Mass. His eyes met the eyes of Sophia's  mother whose distress was apparent. In the sacristy he noticed that she was ready to cry so he gave her a thumbs up gesture and told her she was great: Sei Bravissima. He open his arms to  her and she hugged him closely. From that time on when he visited the house she was always the first at the door and when he left Italy she was the one who missed him the most.

Some 5 years later the priest on a pilgrimage to Assisi with his parishioners, the family came to see him at the shrine. They lived about an hour driving distance from Assisi. They spent an evening together talking about what had happened during the intervening years. Sophia was now in middle school. When she  left them, Sophia gave him a hug like in the sacristy five years before, and said to the priest:  "Father you're the greatest." Sei Bravisimo. 

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